A California man who spent 14 years in prison was exonerated of his wrongful murder conviction Thursday after prosecutors found new DNA evidence that led to a different unknown suspect.
Ricky Davis was convicted in 2005 of second-degree murder in the stabbing death of Jane Hylton, a 54-year-old columnist for the Foothills Times. Hylton was Davis’ roommate, along with Davis' then-girlfriend Connie Dahl and Hylton’s 13-year-old daughter. Hylton was found dead in their El Dorado Hills home on July 7, 1985.
A lack of evidence left the case unsolved for 14 years until 1999 when investigators charged Davis with the murder.
Davis and Dahl told detectives they had gone out to a party and returned home at 3:30 a.m. They found Hylton’s daughter waiting outside, and the teenager told them she was afraid her mother would be upset with her for being out late after she’d gone out with a group of boys that night.
After the three entered the house, they saw blood in the hallway and found Hylton’s body on the bed. Davis and Dahl immediately called 911 to report the crime, and all three maintained they had no involvement in the murder and no knowledge of the perpetrator, according to an online synopsis of the case by the Innocence Project, which is part of the Santa Clara University School of Law.
“Dahl ultimately changed her story for police and implicated Davis as the killer,” according to the project. “She also implicated herself in the crime, telling the police that she bit the victim during the attack.”
But new DNA results revealed a male DNA profile on the victim’s nightgown in the area of the bite mark and the same DNA profile under the victim’s fingernail. The profile does not match the DNA of Davis, Dahl or Hylton’s daughter, the project said.
A judge overturned the murder conviction in 2019 after project lawyers argued that “had the original jury heard the DNA results, it would have likely reached a different outcome,” the project synopsis says.
El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson told the judge Thursday that his office is convinced Davis was wrongfully convicted in the killing. Pierson said the questioning of Dahl by detectives years ago was “what I would characterize as an aggressive, confession-driven interrogation.”
Jail records show Davis is awaiting a “removal order” with his scheduled release date “to be determined.” Davis, now 54, always maintained his innocence.
Davis’s ex-girlfriend Dahl served one year in county jail for the case and died in 2014.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.